As racing approaches, it’s not the race bike I’m worried about

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This leaf spring is not doing its job anymore. Kyle Smith

When someone tells you they race motorcycles, the first thing that comes to mind is a flashy bike gleaming in the paddock. Sometimes, the bike they race isn’t as expensive as you think it is. Keep in mind, though, racing comes with a lot of hidden costs. Money, yes, but time, too. Ask me how I know.

Getting to the race is step one. Sure, you could ride your race machine to the track and back home, but doing so is extremely rare. What about spares, a cooler full of beverages, tools? The change of clothes you carried with you isn’t much help when your brakes stop working.

The pros arrive with 52-foot trailers in tow. Most normal competitors have something more humble. For instance,  I have my 1999 Chevrolet Silverado 1500. And therein lies my latest obstacle.

Chevrolet GMT800 Silverado
Those beautiful rust-free quarter panels are a clear sign this truck is a relatively new transplant to Michigan. Kyle Smith

Don’t let the rust-free exterior and meaty tires fool you. This truck lived a hard life before I picked it up last spring. Knowing that I wanted to attend some motorcycle events farther away than my old 1998 C1500 would safely drive, I spent many a lunch break scouring online classifieds search of a worthy truck. The criteria were simple: a V-8 with enough power to pull my project cars on a flatbed trailer, minimal rust, and 4×4 if I’m lucky. This Silverado popped up and checked those boxes so I jumped on it, but now I am realizing my bare-minimum list was a bit too bare.

Chevrolet GMT800 series pickup
At first, I was just excited to have a truck that I could tow with. My previous rust bucket was in no shape to hitch up. Kyle Smith

This truck will log thousands of miles this year for my racing project alone. Driving it around town last year I thought I had made a great purchase. No funny noises, the 4L60 transmission was recently replaced, and heck, the cruise even worked. Like a good boy though, I dove into it last month knowing a 2000-mile road trip from Michigan to Kansas was just weeks away. The brakes were iffy and the suspension was whispering messages of bad news. Road trip once-over? Probably a good call.

Goldwing parts hauler
What makes for a better parts hauler than the ol’ Goldwing? Full set of brakes and shocks loaded this beast down. Kyle Smith

The brakes were in sorry shape. One rear caliper was stuck and thus the rotor was destroyed. Easy replacement. Pads and rotors all around, add in fresh calipers for the rear. I’m not sure I totally subscribe to the “replace in pairs” school of thought on brake calipers, but replacements for this truck were cheap enough that it easily became a matter of “while I’m in there”. The rear suspension presented a similar situation.

The truck came to me with a medium lift installed, and I have never been a fan of it. I use my truck for truck stuff. Why would I want to lift the things I am putting into the bed higher than necessary? So when I noticed the driver’s-side leaf spring had waved farewell, I took it as my chance to go back to a stock height spring and lift block. The Z71 package on this truck has a small lift block under the spring, but it was smaller than the aftermarket block that was in the truck, so I enthusiastically added a pair of them to my LMC truck order, along with the springs and other hardware. An evening of driveway work later and the truck was back on the ground. Last thing before hitting the road was a short jaunt to the alignment shop and an oil change.

1999 Chevrolet front three quarter low
Kyle Smith

This truck is one of the better examples of a GMT800 pickup I’ve seen in a long time and it drove pretty good, but the tire wear on the front treads told me that it hadn’t seen an alignment rack in a long time. A call to a local shop I know and trust got me an appointment with their machine. I had high hopes as the safety locks clicked off as the black regular cab slowly climbed towards the sky on the red Hunter alignment lift. Down it came, and all too soon. The service writer popped into the lobby with bad news.

“So, the truck is un-alignable. Or at least not worth doing right now.” Unsurprising, I had to admit. Based on the young guy I bought it from, the modifications, and the abundance of “northern Michigan pinstriping” this truck had spent time on the trails. It was not the previous owner’s baby, like it is mine. The list of front suspension parts that were worn beyond spec was not short, and even if the tech could get it dialed in with these tired parts—which was unlikely—the parts still need replaced for the truck to drive like it should. Back to the driveway, but with a stop at the local parts store along the way.

XR250 Engine almost together
The parts are on the workbench and the engine is almost all the way together. Home stretch. Kyle Smith

That is how I ended up pausing the assembly on my XR250 race bike in an effort to make sure both it and I actually arrive at the race. The hottest race machine is worthless if you are 300 miles away when the green flag drops, trying to secure a tow truck to pick up your broken hauler. The AHRMA Motofest at Heartland Park in Topeka, Kansas is my goal, and I’ve got a lot of wrenching to do between now and when I hit the road on May 26.

The bike is getting close, which is much rosier news. The engine is ready for final assembly now that the freshly plated and bored cylinder has arrived back from Millennium Technologies, and I am now just chasing down little things. That old 95/5 rule holds true; that last five percent of the project often takes 95 percent of the time. I’m not in a rush, but my calendar isn’t tucked away in my garage drawer, either. I think my credit card needs a water cooling system to soldier the volume of swipes it’s endured over the last few weeks. No matter. All this investment and hard work is building up to a fun weekend of racing. Assuming I can get there.

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